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Tips for Integrating ESL Students

Advice for secondary-school teachers in English-speaking countries to help them integrate ESL students into their classes.

Conformity is often seen as a good thing, especially in education. If everyone learns the same thing at the same time, it is more likely that everyone will have the same chance to be productive and compete in society.

On the other hand, can one truly say that the educational playing field is absolutely level?

Take, for instance, students recently arrived from other lands, countries where English is not the first or only language. 

It would be easy to think that such students labor under a distinct disadvantage because they are not as conversant in English as pupils whose first language – possibly only language – is English. 

Furthermore, it would be difficult for us to know how their relocation has affected them in other ways and whether our well-meaning efforts to get them to participate in class is doing more harm than good.

If ever a case could be made against conformity in the classroom, it would be for the sake of ELL students. 

Standard teacher training does not include how to reach and teach these English language learners – although, in some parts of the world, future teachers may take extra classes to earn such a qualification.

So, short of speaking your new student’s language, how can you know that s/he receives the full benefit of the instruction you are tasked to impart?

There’s never any guarantee that any student, English speaker or not, will succeed in academia but, with these few tips, you might level the playing field for you non-native English speakers so that they can have the same chance as their classmates. 

First Steps

Generally, when a student starts school in an English-speaking country with little to no knowledge of English, s/he is enrolled in an intensive English language course before being assigned to a ‘regular’ classroom. 

From that point on, s/he will have ESL lessons in tandem with curricular subjects such as math and science. That’s where you come in.

Sometimes, teachers overlook the most valuable asset in teaching new students unlikely to understand English: work with your school’s ESL teacher. 

S/he has the training and experience needed to reach those pupils; s/he may even speak their language and understand their culture. 

It’s unbelievable how cultural sensitivity can help new students acclimatize to their new environment!

You’re not looking at a series of intensive workshops and meetings; you may just keep them apprised of what topics you’re broaching so that s/he can incorporate them into their language learning sessions. 

Perhaps, depending on your school’s ESL faculty, you may only need to provide them with a copy of your lesson plan.

A Word About Culture

Knowing whether making eye contact is considered rude in your new student’s culture, whether deference keeps them quiet in class or if it’s a matter of shyness; whether some of English’s most iconic idioms translate well… 

Everyday phrases like ‘Way to go!’ and ‘High five!’ – common to keep class spirits up might be met with confusion as your students try to puzzle out what, exactly, those phrases mean. 

Your cultural appreciation could then go further, maybe pointing out foods that meet students’ dietary needs in the cafeteria and learning standard greetings in their language. 

If you are the teacher who likes to connect with their students, being culturally attuned is a sure-fire way to do it!

Adjusting Your Teaching Methods

Differentiated instruction is the talk of the times; never has it proved more effective than with ESL students. 

Some teachers aver that paring down ESL students’ lists of vocabulary words to those essential to the lesson works well in keeping them from getting overwhelmed. 

Likewise, assigning more group work permits your new student to work more closely with peers. Even though s/he might not understand them well yet, s/he may relate better to them than to you – the authority figure. 

Making your lessons more visual is another good idea. 

Writing on the board is not bad but it tends to miss creating a vital link from seeing to understanding. After all, writing, whether on the board, in hand-outs or in a book, presents the same challenge of conveying an idea through words that may or may not yet be known.

On the other hand, pictures, videos and other graphic representations lend themselves to easy understanding. Even if your ESL student doesn’t know the words to describe the visual, s/he may be able to relate to it from experience. 

Regular usage of sentence frames – incomplete sentences for which students supply the missing words is one of the best ways for your new student to use recently-acquired vocabulary. 

You may create sentence frames for each subject you teach, leaving them posted around the room for future reference. You could also make a game of them: assign your groups to work in pairs,  creating their own frames to challenge each other and their classmates.

Finally, you might ‘pre-teach’: give your English learner materials that will feature in upcoming lessons. 

The caveat here is to not go too far out; next week’s lessons would be good but next month’s would be counterproductive. 

Your English language learner is not so different than any other student. 

S/he needs to know s/he is valued and a welcome addition to your class, and that you understand the difficulties of their position – both in keeping up with studies and adjusting to a new country, society and language. 

Remember that they have to work at least twice as hard as anyone else in your class (besides you). Your encouragement, sensitivity and teaching mastery could make life a bit easier for them. 

Written by Emma Cowan for EnglishClub | September 2020
I'm Emma, a language tutor on Superprof. I teach English, French, German and Spanish, and I'm currently learning Italian.


  • Organic Chemistry tutor says:

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  • The King Of Love From IRAN says:

    Thank you so much,

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